Rebel Libyan general rejects Putin and Erdogan call for ceasefire

In show of strength, Khalifa Haftar snubs truce as his forces continue western advance

Libyan rebel general Khalifa Haftar has rejected a joint Russian and Turkish appeal for a ceasefire, advanced on the western city of Misrata, and announced he will continue his campaign to oust the United Nations-recognised government in Tripoli.

By dismissing the truce, Haftar has snubbed his ally, Russian president Vladimir Putin, and his main external antagonist, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who met in Istanbul on Wednesday. In Libya, as in Syria, Moscow and Ankara are on opposite sides.

Haftar welcomed “Putin’s initiative” but argued the political process could be revived only after the demobilisation of Muslim-fundamentalist militias he brands terrorists, which control the capital and protect the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

He is sharply critical of Turkey, which has reportedly sent to Tripoli 35 army officers to train militiamen, deployed 300 Turkish surrogate Syrian fighters and provided military equipment, ammunition and drones.

Haftar spoke from a position of strength. In a bid to pre-empt any large-scale landing of Turkish troops, his Libyan National Army took over the coastal city of Sirte, 500km east of the capital.

Until then, Sirte had been held by a GNA-allied militia which withdrew from the city without a fight. The home town of former Libyan leader Muammar Gadafy, Sirte is strategic because it is located on the east-west and north-south network of roads, allowing control of troop movements and supply convoys in the region. It is also close to Libya’s oil fields and export terminals.

The Putin-Erdogan summit coincided with meetings in Brussels between GNA prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj, German foreign minister Heiko Mass and EU officials. An expectation that Haftar and Sarraj might meet in Italy to discuss a truce have been dashed.

Divided country

Since Gadafy’s fall in 2011, Libya has been divided between the GNA in the west and a rival regime based in Tobruk in the east. The latter is supported openly by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and, covertly, by Russia and France.

Source ; News Agencies

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